Great tips for making the best school choice for your child ... Plus, our Private School Fair is Saturday, Sept. 10!!
Pictured above: Students at St. Bernard Academy in Nashville.
You’re struggle to choose between public and private is over. Now a new issue arises: which private school is right for your child? Groups like the National Association of Independent Schools and others offer useful materials, but we’ve done some homework for you. Here’s what to look into before you go any further:
Admissions offices typically work about a year in advance of actual enrollment. If you’re looking into a school that is particularly competitive, it might be wise to make contact even sooner. If admission tests are required, build in extra search time to accommodate testing schedules. Schools usually have deadlines posted on their websites, or you can pick up a school calendar during your site visit. According to the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), most schools accept applications in December, January and February, and make admissions decisions in April and May for the following August or September.
Traditional or progressive? Small or large? Christian or not? Boarding or day? Draw up a list of desirable qualities in order to rate your prospective schools.
“Over and over, we hear the most important reasons parents give for sending their children to FRA are: quality academics, faculty excellence, safety and security, faith-based education and spiritual environment, and opportunities for leadership and involvement for their children,” says Rick West, dean of Franklin Road Academy’s Lower School. “Selecting the right school for a child is one of the most important decisions a family will make. Not only does this choice shape their child’s future in many ways, it has a profound impact on the daily life of that family,” he adds.
“Parents are often looking for a combination of an academically rigorous program within a warm and nurturing environment — a safe place for their children to learn,” says Ian Craig, headmaster at Harding Academy in Nashville. “Parents are often drawn to Harding for the wide variety of opportunities that may not be available elsewhere,” he says.
Your interviews with school administrators are going to be crucial in determining whether a school is right for your child, but mine other sources for information, too. Seek out parents who have children enrolled or previously enrolled at the schools you like to get real-world answers to your questions about various academic styles and rigor. A number of points of view will help you make a decision. Keep a log of your contact with various schools, know names, be courteous and mindful of timing.
PREPARE YOUR CHILD.
Just as you evaluate whether a school is suitable for your child, the school will be assessing whether your child will be a good addition to its student body. Interviews, evaluation tests, transcripts and observations are the main methods schools use to determine if a child is well-suited for its environment and curriculum. Do a pretend interview at home prior to any interviews you schedule at prospects. Keep your child calm and positive when it comes to the tours and testing required by different schools — it will go a long way to helping you all stay confident and focused throughout the admissions processes.
KEEP IT REAL.
A school’s name, recognition and reputation within your community might play a role in your final choice, but it should only be a small part. It’s really going to be your child’s performance at the school that will determine what college he gets into, so don’t assume that a name is going to guarantee a favorable outcome. Plus, no matter how lauded and well regarded an institution is, it simply might not be the place where your child feels comfortable.
Even if you are prepared for the financial burden of tuition, it is still just that: a burden. Annual tuition ranges from about $3,000 for early childhood programs to $20,000 for secondary grades. Most schools offer some form of financial aid and/or tuition scholarships, and you can explore the financing options when you go in for your interview or online. You’ll want to be mindful of ancillary expenses such as uniforms, laptops, sports equipment, books, supplies and school trip fees when determining costs per year.
“I urge parents to contact each school’s director of admission and financial aid to find out more about each school’s availability,” Craig says. “If parents have a child they think would thrive in an independent school setting, the notion that they can’t afford the tuition should not prevent them from applying,” he adds.
West adds thought to this. “Choosing a college-prep, independent school is an investment for our families, but it’s an investment that pays off in significant measures,” he says.
And according to the NAIS website, “While private schools educate only about 10 percent of the school-age population, anywhere from 20 – 40 percent of the highly selective colleges and universities come from private schools.”
PAYING FOR PRIVATE SCHOOL
Many misconceptions abound about getting help with paying for private school. Juliet Douglas, director of admissions at University School of Nashville, says that it begins “with the assumption that your family makes too much money to qualify for help.” She adds many families believe that since they’re middle class they don’t qualify for help. “In fact, a significant amount of our financial aid dollars go to families who fall into the middle income bracket,” adds Douglas. She also states that all the financial aid given at USN is need-based, awarded after a family has gone through the financial aid application process and has demonstrated financial need — and it’s a surprisingly easy process, too. Douglas adds that the important thing to remember is to “start the financial aid application process early; don’t assume you don’t qualify for financial aid; and know each individual school’s aid policies and deadlines because they vary widely.”
Many schools require parents to submit an online form that outlines their financial picture; typically it’s a branch of the National Association of Independent Schools, called SSS (School & Student Services). The online form is the Parents’ Financial Statement (PFS). To learn more about the PFS, an online webinar is on the SSS site at sssbynais.org/parents under “What’s New.” For more support, call SSS at 800-344-8328.
The Tennessee Association of Independent Schools (TAIS), the state affiliate of the NAIS and the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS), urges families to connect with the schools they’re interested in to find out about available individual plans as need-based financial aid and merit awards may be available.
Many different avenues can help you afford private school: scholarships, financial aid, loan programs and payment plans through the school itself, but options don’t end there. FinAid, an award-winning website offering financial aid information, advice and tools, should be looked at. There, you can fill out applications, get questions answered and learn about savings plans, scholarships and loans. You’ll also learn that you can find financial support in several broad categories including free scholarship lotteries, federal and state government aid, student profile-based aid, aid for elementary and secondary school as well as aid for specific activities and innovative programs.
Visit finaid.org to learn more.
ATTEND THE PRIVATE SCHOOL FAIR
Saturday, Sept. 10
10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Adventure Science Center, Nashville
Get a huge jump start on your independent school research by attending Nashville Parent’s annual Private School Fair on Saturday, Sept. 10 at Adventure Science Center. Meet reps from several Middle Tennessee independent schools — they’ll be on site to answer all the questions you have about their schools. Learn about the schools’ academic programs, college-placement rates, athletics and arts programs, scholarship and financial aid opportunities and more.
Admission is free to attend the Private School Fair, but regular admission to ASC applies if you and your kids want to explore the exhibit areas.
Learn more about the Private School Fair, including a list of schools that will be in attendance.